The revolution in physics at the start of the 20th
century didn't spring from nowhere. In Boltzmann's Atom
David Lindley tells the story of the Viennese physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, and how his work in the second half of the 19th
century played an important part in setting the scene for later advances in physics. In particular his work on the kinetic theory of gases helped to demonstrate the existence of atoms. Not everyone agreed with him though - the book isn't just about Boltzmann, it also looks at the views of other scientists in the debate about thermodynamics and the validity of results such as Boltzmann's H-theorem.
Biographies of scientists are a good way of introducing scientific ideas to the non-technical reader. I felt, however that with this book it sometimes needed a bit of previous experience of thermodynamics to see what was going on in the arguments between different scientists. But it does help to bring home the problems that Boltzmann had. He was the sort of person to make bold advances in a subject, but he got bogged down in a debate about the existence of atoms with philosophers such as Mach, and the new physics at the start of the 20th century rather passed him by. Boltzmann always suffered from lack of contentment and in 1906 he committed suicide. This book provides a valuable insight into how the life of such a forward seeing scientist came to have such a sad ending.